This is the written version of a presentation I made at the Mart Lions Club. You can view the video here.
In July of 2007, I made a decision that changed my life. Before I can tell you that, I have to tell you about a decision made about a year before, when one man wrote a blank check to the U.S. Army. This check’s value included up to all of his time and even his life. He made this decision due to some unknowns in his own life at the time, but it would lead to even more unknowns in the future. When we reconnected several months later and (according to my dad) went on three dates before getting married. I co-signed that blank check, not knowing what the future would hold, only knowing I wanted to spend my life with this man.
Sometimes our “together” looked different from most newlyweds. News that we were expecting our first child was overshadowed by plans for a 15-month deployment. Since this was our first child, Peter’s unit worked with him to schedule his mid-tour leave for my due date. Even with this plan, Peter faced the challenge of getting a flight from Kuwait back to the States, until he met a Full-Bird Colonel. He made it safely, welcomed his son into the world with open arms, and left after 11 days. He wouldn’t hold his son again for eight months. Our first anniversary was spent on two separate continents.
Peter’s first duty station was Ft. Carson, in beautiful Colorado Springs. This distance was manageable for frequent trips to visit our families while also providing plenty of opportunities to explore in our own backyard. While I was already fairly independent and strong-willed, that first year allowed me to develop these characteristics into strengths.
Each unit has a family readiness group (FRG). The intended, defined purpose of these groups is to “encourage self-reliance in members by providing information, referral assistance, and mutual support.” Maybe some groups DO function this way, but that was not my experience. In our first unit, during our first deployment, I went to a few of the meetings, but rarely felt informed, assisted, or supported. Instead, this group functioned more as a gossip mill. I overheard many inappropriate activities these spouses were engaged in and I knew I didn’t fit with this group. As the months passed, I found my support through our congregation. Our location provided military spouses of all ages and stages of life, some near my own age, some more like a grandmother. Each of these women provided something the FRG did not: a common belief, a common morality, and a common eternal focus (rather than the temporary focus of a military mission.
Peter remained stationed at Ft. Carson for almost four years. This time included a second, shorter deployment, only 12 months. His job offered little opportunity for promotion and his chain of command offered little support when he applied for Officer School. While on post-deployment leave, Peter contacted his branch manager, requesting a new assignment. We prayed and waited. He received a call: Alaska or Germany. The unit in Germany was brand new and a completely unique opportunity. A few months later, in October 2011, we set off on a new adventure.
When we left the states, I was about eight weeks pregnant with our second child. Before we moved out of temporary housing, before our car or household goods arrived, we had a miscarriage. We weren’t even finished with our in-processing. This new adventure became suddenly dark. The unit offered condolences and we were allowed an extra week in temporary housing. I spent most of that week moving from the bed to the couch when Dietrich woke up, dozing as he watched television, getting up only to fix meals. Taking care of him helped me take care of myself. He became the bright spot in my darkness.
We settled quickly in our new home and connected easily with a local congregation. Once again, I gave the FRG a chance, and once again, I felt disappointed. In the last meeting I attended, the First Sargent introduced himself to me. For the third time. He said he didn’t think he’d met me. The look on my face told his error without me saying a word.
While in Germany, Peter had two shorter deployments known more commonly as Temporary Duty (TDY). He spent nine months in Turkey and one month in Israel. He was allowed leave time to welcome Madilynn into our world, almost exactly one year after our loss. My favorite memory from this time is Dietrich saying, “You are Peter. You are my daddy. You are not in a turkey anymore.” Peter’s favorite memory is that Madilynn peed on the doctor, a colonel. Once again, Peter returned to work leaving an 11-day-old baby behind, but this time would return after only a three-month separation.
We found more things to explore than we had time or money to do. Before Madilynn ever set foot on U.S. soil, she visited eight countries. In our three years in Germany, we made many new friends. We were at the end of a “PCS season” (Permanent Change of Station AKA when a military family moves). Before our turn came, we said about 13 “see you laters” – because you don’t say goodbye in the military. When our turn came, we didn’t know the next thing. Peter’s contract was over. After seven and a half years of the consistently inconsistent military life, we again faced the unknown. Dietrich, ever inquisitive, intuitive, and empathetic, noticed how all those before us seemed to know where they were going, but we did not. One day, while talking to my dad on Skype, he repeated back what he’d heard me say, “We don’t know where we’re going, but God will point us in the right direction.”
Becoming an army wife involved a commitment to my husband, to his mission, and to our country. This lifestyle is filled with unknowns, secret fears you don’t talk about, and opportunities that reveal your true character. I found new talents and strengths, learned more about relying on God, and developed a faith that was truly my own. Finding a church home was the first priority in each move. Those people gave us support. We shared in each other’s lives and grew together in faith and friendship.
Unbecoming an army wife, if anything, challenged me more. The military lifestyle becomes a part of your identity. Suddenly, that piece did not fit anymore. What no one talks about is how military life affects you long after your commitment ends. During deployments, I didn’t need to know everything. Some things, I almost wish Peter hadn’t told me years later. Similarly, there were home situations that I didn’t burden Peter with because he couldn’t help and they would distract him from his mission. This is the balance a military family deals with, each person trying not to tip to scale, preserving safety and sanity for the other.
Military life taught us valuable lessons that we continue to carry with us. We learned how to be a family, even through long separations. We learned how to make the most of whatever time we have together. We found adventure in every situation. I wouldn’t trade this life for any other.